John Swinney’s plan for enterprise areas attacked

FINANCE secretary John Swinney is facing the first backlash against his proposed enterprise areas from property developers who claim the support given to two government-backed schemes puts private projects at a disadvantage.

Iain Mercer, managing director of Cosmopolitan Investments, accused Swinney of creating an “unlevel” playing field by naming the Edinburgh BioQuarter and the BioCampus near Penicuik among the sites designated under the latest jobs initiative.

He said turning the latter into an enterprise area was a “reward for failure” because the site has been empty since Scottish Enterprise built it ten years ago.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He added that the likely incentives – such as reduced business rates, simplified planning and broadband assistance – gave them an unfair competitive edge.

Cosmopolitan Investments built Discovery Terrace, a group of offices and research laboratories, on the Heriot-Watt Research Park in 2005.

But Mercer, whose late father Wallace was chairman of Hearts football club, said: “We have built and let out two of the three pavilions originally envisaged but our effort to complete the development has been thwarted by the difficult borrowing situation affecting the entire property sector.

“Our task will not be made any easier if the government, through Scottish Enterprise, begins offering subsidised facilities in other parts of the science triangle.”

Swinney last week unveiled enterprise areas based around the life sciences, manufacturing, and renewable energy sectors. Fourteen sites were chosen, including biotechnology clusters at Forres in Moray, Inverness and around drugs giant Glaxosmithkline’s plant in Irvine. Mercer was particularly critical of Scottish Enterprise’s involvement in the BioCampus. “For a decade the building has been sitting empty, at a significant loss to the taxpayer, without the creation of a single job,” he said. “I think awarding enterprise status here simply rewards failure.”

Malcolm Bateman, chief executive of Roslin Biocentre, another of the science parks, said it seemed “perverse” that the BioCampus was designated as an enterprise area but the parks surrounding it had not.

The BioCampus borders other research sites including Roslin, the Pentlands Science Park and the Edinburgh Technipole, a joint venture between Edinburgh University and the Duke of Westminster’s property company Grosvenor.

Bateman said: “It’s difficult to say for sure until we see all the details of what the enterprise areas will be able to offer, but it does seem to put the rest of us at a disadvantage.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A spokeswoman for Scottish Enterprise said: “The BioCampus was developed based on market intelligence and industry projections regarding the expected global increase in demand for bio-manufacturing facilities.”

Earlier this month, Roslin Biocentre launched BioCity Scotland, an incubator centre for life science firms at Newhouse, near Glasgow, on the former Merck drugs plant.

A BioCity spokesman said the body was “relaxed” about other sites gaining enterprise area status because it was already signing up tenants.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Enterprise areas have been selected against tough criteria to make sure they have the greatest impact and offer the best chance to generate employment opportunities and boost economic growth within the policy’s five-year timeframe.”